The Latest from Cheap Trick

by Clay Howard

Guitarist Rick Nielsen and his band Cheap Trick have been going strong since the 1970s.

With two upcoming North Carolina dates, it seemed like a good time to get him on the phone. Nielsen discussed learning the songs from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and how much he loved learning and playing. As our conversation progressed past the usual “tell me about your new album” stuff, the secret to the band’s success became evident to me after 30 years as a fan — this guy actually loves to play.

You are about to get very busy next week. You have a new CD, a big summer tour and a song on a major movie soundtrack — all releasing or starting on the 23 rd .

Yeah, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on. It’s always a nice thing.

I wanted to talk to you about The Latest, your new CD which is being released exclusively through your website and on June 23 [Tuesday]. The album has something for all of your fans. Great songwriting and performances. Even if you had the luxury of not being compared to your previous work, this album would stand on its own.

Yeah, we don’t sound like we’ve been… It doesn’t sound like it is our 28 th album, or whatever it is (laughs). The music is kind of, it’s kind of grown up in a way. But then again we have songs like “Sick Man of Europe,” which sound like we haven’t progressed one iota, but that’s a good thing.

That song is definitely up there with your best rockers. You mention that the music is grown up… the album ends with, to me, one of your best ballads ever — the very grown-up “Smile.”

Yeah, “Smile.” When Robin hits those notes…. Whoah! It gives you goosebumps.

Another song I wanted to ask about was the song “Closer, the Ballad of Burt and Linda.” Was that inspired by the couple featured in the documentary Crazy Love?

I think that name was brought up, and I think it was inspired by, well… yeah (laughs). I don’t know. “Closer” was the title, and then somebody wrote it on one of the rough mixes we were doing and it just stuck ever since. I think maybe somebody was reading about that couple and… well you are asking the question and I have a great answer: Huh? (laughs)

Well you’ll be ready next time…

I’llstill be “Huh… what?” You are the second person to ask me that and myanswer for them was, “Huh, what?” (laughs) We just started doinginterviews for the new record, I think maybe you are only the secondone that has it and has heard it and I haven’t got some stock crummyanswer yet… I just have my rough crummy answer.

Well, it is a nice moody piece — very melodic. Yeah,the harmony is cool in there and the guitar part (hums guitar line),I’ve always liked melody more than, “Geez let’s see how many notes Ican throw in, in 230 seconds.” I’d never win that battle anyhow, sohaving a melody is something I’ve always liked.

Ithink that is true for this whole record. Take a song like “EverybodyKnows.” That song has a great twisting melody line that just wrapsthroughout the entire tune — not really stopping to put in a bigchorus. Yeah, it just keeps going… it reminds me ofProcol Harum’s “Repent Walpurgis.” You don’t know what the lyrics mean,but you still listen to it.

You also have a song on the new Transformers movie soundtrack (“Transformers” theme). How did that come about? The guy that we worked with on The Latest, nameis Julian Raymond. He lives in Hollywood and somebody from Paramountcalled him and before I knew it there we were, on a day off, recording,and the president of Paramount came in with his kid — the kid said itwas good. It was like one of those things… we weren’t in when itstarted but they were looking for something and Cheap Trick, I guess,sometimes fills the bill.

AsI mentioned, you have a busy schedule ahead. Last week you made anotherbig announcement. Cheap Trick will be doing a 10-night stand at the LasVegas Hilton playing the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper in it’s entirety. Theyactually wanted us for, I think, almost a year or something like that(laughs), and we just didn’t have the time. We are going straight fromthe Def Leppard/Poison tour right to Vegas to rehearse to play thoseshows.

You have done the show several times, with special guests at each. Any special guests in Las Vegas?

Yeah, I am sure we will definitely. But that is TBA, or rather TBD, to be determined (laughs). We did the thing, Music For Hangovers, afour-night stand in Chicago, and we had people from Smashing Pumpkins,Pearl Jam, Supersuckers…. We had all these bands fighting with eachother to get paid $250 to open for us (laughs).

Cheap Trick’s new album, The Latest, is available now exclusively from or The band plays Raleigh’s Time Warner Pavilion on Aug. 7, and Charlotte’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater on Aug. 8. The Sgt. Pepper shows take place at the Las Vegas Hilton Sept. 13-23, and the Transformers soundtrack releases this week.